For months, self-styled citizen militia members have threatened to take up arms if President Donald Trump is legally removed from office. Now, some of those same extremists are threatening violence over attempts to enact reasonable gun-safety legislation in Virginia.

Just because radical right-wing activists wrap themselves in the rhetoric of patriotism doesn’t mean they are above the law. These vows of violence against legitimate processes of the Constitution and of state lawmaking are nothing more or less than terrorist threats, and should be treated as such. It should not have taken the FBI as long as it did to crack down on the worst of these groups, a neo-Nazi gang calling itself the Base (which, in Arabic translates as al-Qaida).

Many congressional Republicans who should know better have been promoting a deeply irresponsible theme: that the impeachment process against Trump is an extra-constitutional scheme to “undo an election,” rather than a legitimate constitutional procedure. This narrative — that merely leveling those charges, in the very manner the founders envisioned, constitutes some kind of attempted coup — is cynical and reckless.

Less surprising is that Trump himself has encouraged militia activism. One group, Oath Keepers, provided exterior security at a Trump rally in Dallas. In a tweet last September, he endorsed a supporter’s prediction that Trump’s removal “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”

One reason to avoid that kind of talk from the bully pulpit is that it can inflame the passions of those who already have trouble controlling them.

Oath Keepers is a far-right militia group whose twisted view of defending the Constitution includes calling for armed resistance against any laws they, personally, have decided are unconstitutional. The group, which claims 35,000 members nationally, responded to that September Trump tweet by calling on members to initiate “a HOT civil war” in the event of Trump’s removal. In October, Oath Keepers provided exterior security at a Trump rally in Dallas.

Today, the same extremist group is working with some radical county-level officials in Virginia, setting up what it calls “Second Amendment sanctuaries” to prevent that state’s new Democratic government from imposing controls on firearms. The clear implication is that they’re going to disobey any such laws, violently if necessary.

Virginia’s governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of an upcoming gun-rights rally.

Congress and state legislatures, empowered by the voters, determine what laws Americans must follow; the courts determine how to interpret those laws — including the Constitution. Nothing in that flow chart grants authority to camouflage-clad, armed extremists to the right to decide what laws they will and won’t follow.

What was once known as the law-and-order party has met this disturbing militia movement with either silence or, in Trump’s case, winks and nods. Expecting responsible behavior from this president is a lost cause, but where are the voices of reason among congressional Republicans to calm these volatile threats?

—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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